Even though there are still three months to go before the district council elections, the major political parties already have their fingers on the trigger of their election campaigns.
Banners are flying outside some MTR stations, and volunteers are handing out election flyers to passersby.
Yet, apart from the major pan-democratic and pro-establishment parties, it appears that political groups led by young activists that emerged in the wake of the Umbrella Movement have yet to enter the competition.
This year’s district council elections are especially meaningful, as they are the first major elections after last year’s Umbrella Movement, and their results could reflect the sentiment of the general public in the post-Umbrella Movement era.
Even though the 79-day movement failed to bring about any tangible political results, it raised the political awareness of an entire generation of young people, who, inspired by it, have become much more vocal and eager to participate in social movements and won’t hesitate to criticize the government and major political parties for their mistakes.
What the Umbrella Movement showed was not only Hongkongers’ aspirations for greater democracy and insistence on social justice for their fellow citizens but also their intense grievances against the Leung Chun-ying regime.
Unfortunately, complacent after his successful “crackdown” on the movement, Leung has continued to turn a blind eye to public opinion and has become increasingly aggressive in retaliating against pro-democracy activists, and his administration is harboring police officers who were caught on camera beating up protesters.
Leung even incited pro-establishment thugs to stage sappy rallies in support of the police.
Some pro-establishment politicians also called for legislation against “contempt of cop”, attempting to use the law as a tool to crack down on dissenting voices.
What Leung has been doing is basically intensifying our social conflicts and further polarizing our society.
Mounting discontent with his administration is about to reach the tipping point.
Unfortunately, obsessed with maintaining stability amid a slowdown in economic growth and bearish sentiment across the mainland, our leaders in Beijing haven’t blamed Leung for splitting our society.
Instead, to the dismay of the people of Hong Kong, they praised him for what he had done.The fact that Beijing continues to support Leung’s hard-line approach regardless of the social reality in Hong Kong has alienated the majority of our citizens.
Several recent surveys have showed that the proportion of Hongkongers who acknowledge a Chinese identity has hit a record low, especially among young people, giving rise to nativist and indigenous factions.
Many young people tend to regard themselves as “Hongkongers” rather than “Chinese” and find it difficult to identify with anything associated with the mainland.
To make matters worse, Leung hasn’t addressed this issue at all and simply responded by speeding up Hong Kong’s integration into the mainland to curb the rise of nativism.
In this hostile political environment, is it likely that the average voter can use his or her vote to make a difference in the district council and Legislative Council elections?
I am quite pessimistic about that, and there are several factors.
First, the Umbrella Movement gave rise to a wide variety of pan-democratic factions.
However, the political differences among them seem insurmountable, and they are often ideologically hostile to one another and see the mainstream pan-democratic parties as capitulationists rather than allies.
It is foreseeable that infighting among all these factions will divide and dilute the support for the pan-democratic camp, and the pro-establishment camp will definitely milk that for all it is worth.
Besides, the mainstream pan-democratic parties have lost their credibility and their leadership of the pro-democracy movement in the wake of the Umbrella Movement and could be fighting an uphill battle to retain their seats.
It is very likely that the pro-establishment camp will further consolidate its dominance in the legislature in the next Legco election.
Meanwhile, Leung’s administration and his proxies have already begun persecuting the student leaders who spearheaded the Umbrella Movement last year, such as Alex Chow Yong-kang and Joshua Wong Chi-fung, by pressing criminal charges against them.
The legal troubles they face are likely to drag on, rendering them unable to focus on their campaigns, even if they intend to run in the upcoming elections.
In the meantime, the fact that the Registration and Electoral Office is turning a blind eye to the rampant vote-rigging by pro-establishment parties indicates that the government has taken sides and is helping the pro-Beijing camp to expand its political influence in every possible way.
With a legislature dominated by pro-Beijing parties, a divided and loosely organized pan-democratic camp, and a highly unpopular government firmly in power, our city’s political system is simply deformed, and the future of our society is gloomy.
Sadly, Hong Kong will continue to decay amid this political deadlock.
This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 31.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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